The Urn

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Chapter 6

Orville drove up through Belize, pausing in only a few spots to just get a feel for the country north after a day in Placencia. He had been long fascinated by stories and descriptions of Belize from a scuba diving friend, Jim, but despite its inordinate beauty Orville just took a quick overview with plans to return another time as he really had his sights set on Mexico. Diving was not really his thing, but he could not deny the allure of the small strip of land adjacent to Guatemala as he passed through. With the time he had remaining until he was due back at work, Orville chose to limit his time in Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. He had, when still a student, been fortunate enough to tour along the Pacific coast taking in such places as Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, and even over to the Baja Peninsula for the Cabo experience, but the coast along the Gulf was all new and he wanted to see it this time around.

Most of the Pacific coastal towns were much too “Miami Beach” for Orville’s tastes, with the exception of the outlier, Zihuantanejo. The once sleepy fishing village had been the target of a government program to enhance it as a tourist draw, and though to Orville it did not seem like it, if you look at the numbers, he discovered that the Zihuantanejo area trailed only Cancun and Puerto Vallarta in tourist visits annually. It certainly was much more developed and busy than it had been in years gone by, he had to admit, but there were still pockets along the beach that seemed to have retained the old reputation and his trip there had been a magical one he thought fondly back on often.

Mexico had always intrigued Orville, though until he started going there and getting a better flavor and feel for various parts of the country, he could not say why exactly. Maybe how it was often portrayed in films or in books he had read, perhaps, but he just kept thinking of it when the winters got too ugly back in Laconia when the ice and sleet seemed like they would go on forever. The desert of the Baja Peninsula, while lovely in its own way, with a beauty unique to the arid environment there, Orville found himself drawn more to the beaches and now that he had been in the jungle of Guatemala, he was curious about the Yucatan and its reputation for having both readily available.

He crossed from Belize into Mexico at Chetumal and went north through Bacalar to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve just south of Tulum. His driving tour continued on over to Merida, a massive city of nearly a million and the capital of the Yucatan state. Cities were not really Orville’s bag either, but the transition from the jungles of Tulum and the small Mayan villages such as Macario Gomez and Francisco Uh May was incredible. The high canopy here was teeming with wildlife, especially the population of spider monkeys that entertained him during his stay along the Coba road to Merida. On his way, he stopped off at a smaller town, Valladolid, where he was mesmerized by the stunning colonial era churches and architecture.

Which was the perfect introduction to Merida, a much larger locale of similar influences as well as a rich Mayan heritage that made all Orville had read about come to life vibrantly. Before he knew it, his time in Mexico on this quick overview tour of the Yucatan was rapidly coming to a close and he reluctantly aimed his car back east toward Cancun for his flight home. The whole drive away from Merida and even as he made his way through the busy airport in Cancun, all Orville could think of was how much he wanted to come back here one day. Between the unexpected experience he had had down in Guatemala with Francisco and his family and this long, and more hurried survey of the Yucatan than he had wished, Orville began mapping out plans in the back of his mind as to how soon he might be able to again break away from his responsibilities at RMD to see more.

As the plane lifted from Cancun and headed back to the US, Orville was surprised at where his mind was. His whole life, though he had traveled a bit as a younger man, he had never really given much thought to all that lay out there beyond his professional obsession at RMD. As they cruised high over the Gulf of Mexico, Orville began to wonder if perhaps he had missed out on a lot in his life with his nearly fanatical devotion to his work. Before this trip, he would never have described himself as a workaholic, but now he was not so sure. He was still looking forward to getting back to the lab and seeing what was next in the pipeline, but it no longer seemed the all-consuming fixation it had once been.

It was, he told himself, perhaps time to really begin to change his life and become more diversified and get a greater sense of balance. What was that old saying people always brought up when someone was at the end of their natural life….“no one ever said, gee…I wish I had spent more time at the office….” As the plane leveled out and Orville felt his eyes grow heavy, he smiled at the thought of this realization, and hoped he could really make it happen….

************

The change back to the climate of Tennessee hit Orville like a hammer in the face when he got off the plane in Memphis. While still considered by most to have a humid, subtropical climate overall, with relatively mild winters, what greeted Orville as he went to the lot to get his car was anything but. Coming from the delightful warmth of Central America, he knew, had much to do with it, but the temperatures hovering in the 30’s and the thin blanket of snow coating everything in site was not a welcome home sign for Orville. Though this was nothing compared to what he had endured in Columbus while a at student at Ohio State, Orville sighed deeply as he plodded from the shuttle van to his car and scraped at the snow and ice on his windows, longing for the beaches of Mexico.

He sat for a few moments as the heater tried to catch up and was glad he had one more free day to readjust to coming home. It would just have been too much of a shock to him, both physically and emotionally, to have had to pop back into the lab immediately after this trip. As the interior of the car finally warmed a bit, Orville released the parking brake and crawled along the icy and slick parking lot alleys before entering onto the series of interstate segments he knew well back to Laconia. Traffic was light, but still the trip home, normally just an hour or so in normal conditions, took Orville almost twice that from delays for unprepared drivers as well as what seemed like the obligatory two or three jackknifed semi long-haulers who had slid on the black ice and were clogging the route.

By the time Orville got home, he felt years older than his fift….holy shit, he realized….no more fifties! His birthday was just a few days down the pike and it was to be the big 6-O. All of a sudden, Orville felt ancient and exhausted. So much for recharging, he thought…it would pass, he was sure. He had been having these moments as of late; this wondering where the years had gone, but it always passed. The trip was still buzzing in his brain, but somehow he had let this damn weather ruin his mood. And with that, Orville pushed it all away and focused on all that he had just experienced down south….and just like that, he was back there again…

The next morning, Orville arose to sunny skies about as blue as it over got in Tennessee this time of the year. The thoughts of entering a new decade in his life had evaporated and disappeared much as had the snow outside, which was just dribbles and drabs by noon. Orville went about his little house doing all he needed to do to get ready to return to work the next day and before he knew it he was just as jazzed about what might lie ahead at RMD as he normally was when there was a blank slate and new projects were still gestating in all their brains. As the sun went down that evening, he sat in the den and looked over some research papers that Frederick and Janice had given him for consideration of new projects moving ahead.

His team had been left in quite capable hands in his absence to come up with new variants and side branches of what they had created just before his time off. But both Janice and Frederick wanted Orville thinking and planning for brand new opportunities. He was the company think tank now, they had said.

“We certainly do not want to constrain you from the day to day in the lab…we both know what that means to you, Orville.” Janice had told him when they had announced his promotion. “But with that new position, we want the majority of your time to be focused on new ideas. Untried concepts. As wild and unlikely as they may seem at the time.”

“That’s right,” Frederick added, “it is our hope that your vision and intellect will propel RMD to the top of the heap!”

It had been intimidating and challenging at the time, and now that he was home and facing the new position head on, Orville still felt a bit nervous and anxious. Not that he doubted his potential and abilities…nothing like that. And he was always looking for a new opportunity to challenge the status quo. But he had recalled how intense and nerve-racking it had been when they were under the gun last time with the board of directors. How close they had all come, apparently, to being demoted if not actually dismissed. It had pushed him to the brink in all regards and Orville hoped this new venture would not present an even greater degree of that expectation as they moved ahead.

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